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Never Too Late to Create

 I recently read an article published in The American Journal of Public Health entitled “The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health.”  Although I have certainly experienced the correlation between art and wellness in my own life, I was intrigued by the idea that art might contribute not just to one’s emotional or mental wellness, but to physical health, as well.

According to the piece, art can “calm neural activity in the brain,” thereby improving the efficacy of the immune system.  Subjects in their research studies — many of whom suffered from cardiac issues or cancer — experienced quantifiable improvements to their heart and respiratory rates as a result of exposure to the arts.  Their sleeping patterns often improved as cortisol levels decreased, and the occurrence of depression and anxiety were significantly diminished.

As humans, we intuitively seek outlets for self-expression — as children, we all delighted in the act of creation.  Before we learned inhibition and self-consciousness from the adults around us, we replicated the joys, sorrows, and mysteries of life through crayons and fingerpaint.  But, though this reflex is encouraged in us as children, the demands of adult life can often prevent us from focusing on creative pursuits.  We get caught up in the bureaucracy of living and forget to feel our way through things creatively.  It’s no wonder our society is plagued by stress and its related health issues.  But when adults retire, especially if they have jettisoned the stressors associated with home ownership, what’s stopping them at that point?  What better time could there possibly be than retirement to re-explore the health-affirming avenues of artistic self-expression?

Lakewood has long catered to residents’ need to work with their hands.  Since 1979, we have had an active wood shop, known colloquially as “The Sawdust Club.”  We offer an extremely popular twice-monthly craft class taught by the ever-tasteful Judy Forbes, who surprises registrants with seasonally-themed projects such as wreaths and décor items, as well as everyone’s favorite—stunning beaded jewelry.  Specialty art classes pepper our program schedule, as well, including floral design, basket weaving, cardmaking, and more.  But, without a doubt, the cornerstone of Lakewood’s creativity catalog is our Monday afternoon painting class.

Taught by Brenda Bickerstaff-Stanley, Lakewood’s painting class began about six years ago.  An accomplished artist in her own right, Brenda has both painted and exhibited her work all over the world.  As Lakewood’s instructor, she encourages painters of all levels to embrace the pressure-free atmosphere of this class as an outlet for discovering their hidden talents.  She says “painting is as individual as your signature…I offer each painter the ability to achieve what they only thought they might want to do ‘ONE DAY’.”

Class participants work in the media of their choice, be it watercolor, acrylic or oil.  Though their subjects are varied, they often paint from photographs.  Each student works independently on a project of their own conception, while classmates and instructor alike provide the encouragement and support to keep him going.  As Brenda puts it, “when anyone succeeds, everyone celebrates!”

As resident Helen Wood eloquently phrases it, “the art class here gives me opportunity to retreat from the world… for those two hours I forget all the other things I’ve obligated myself to doing, all the concerns I have about the problems of family and friends, and allow me to be in the moment… There is always a need to refresh one’s inner being and, along with times of meditation and reading, I find that in a couple of hours of art.”

A few years ago, Lakewood began hanging their artists’ work in the solarium hallway in rotation with our usual on-loan exhibits.  Many of Lakewood’s artists have also showed their work at VANHA’s annual juried exhibit, bringing home honors.  Both of these exhibition opportunities have fostered a newfound—but well-deserved—confidence in residents’ abilities to create works of great beauty and personal import.

Brenda has recently introduced a drawing class to her repertoire, wherein students that are new to the visual arts are provided the instruction and materials to explore their creative sides.  Lakewood’s programming staff invites all residents to try either of these classes as a springboard to improved self-expression.  For more information on our offerings, please contact Program Coordinator Karla Adair: (804)521-9252 or kadair@vbh.org.

Submitted by:  Sarah Griffin, Communications Coordinator, Lakewood

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